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The informal sector is a term commonly used for the unorganized sector in the country and is used interchangeably. This arena consists of people and enterprises who are either self-employed or hire people to work in that unorganized sector. A worker in this sector is defined as one having no paid leave, job security, health care facilities, etc. According to the Indian Labour Market Update of 2016 (noted by the International Labour Union), About 82% of the workforce in India is in the unorganized sector. They have to face innumerable challenges on daily basis in their work life. One of these encounters is harassment faced by the workers which affect the person physically, mentally, and socially. According to the ‘Status of Women in India’ report, 10% of the total women in the working sector face harassment at the workplace. They face gender inequality in the workplace they are employed in the form of differences in the wages to men and women for doing comparable work, limited access of opportunities to women, not having considerable participation by women in the team, and not including them in the decision-making process, etc. It is not that harassment takes place in the unorganized sector only, instead, it is prevalent in both sectors. Let us understand the basics of Sexual harassment and its forms. A recent survey has revealed that almost 17 percent of women workers in India face sexual harassment at their workplace, with incidence rates being high in both organized and unorganized sectors

What is Sexual harassment?

The term is defined as intimidating, humiliating, and disgraceful conduct by an individual in oral, written, expressional, or digital form. With the advent of women empowerment and females taking a front seat in all arenas, the issue of sexual harassment is also surging. In India, every 10th minute a woman is being sexually abused. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Sexual Harassment means “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” that interferes with one’s employment or work performance or creates a “hostile or offensive work environment” . This act is a result of flawed upbringing, paucity of values and correct viewpoint, inappropriate use of power and authority, inferiority complex felt by the individuals if women do better in some area, procrastinating attitude while dealing with these issues in the organization, etc. There are some types of sexual harassment which are:

  • Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment - Quid Pro Quo is a Latin term used for “Something for Something”. This type of harassment takes place when anyone in the authority or working place offers to provide some benefit or offer like salary raise, or other perks in return for the fulfillment of some sexual demand. One fine example of the situation is when a person’s employment is contingent on the acceptance or rejection of sexual advances.
  • Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment - It is unauthorized, unwelcome conduct by an employee or the employer where an individual is subject to physical, verbal, or non-verbal conduct. There is hostility in the work environment due to which the professional life of an individual is highly affected and thus, they are not able to carry out their work efficiently. Stalking, Ogling or Gossiping are part of this type of harassment.
  • Internet Harassment - It is carried out with the help of a computer and the internet and is also commonly termed as cyberbullying. It is defined as a form of harassment where technology is used to threaten the other person.

Unfolding the Myths?

There are a few things that are myths concerned with sexual harassment but our actual facts and sometimes there are some facts we know which are actually myths. Let’s discuss them all once. There is a statement that is prevalent in everyone’s mind that only women can be harassed but this is a myth. Instead, any gender can be a victim of sexual abuse. According to PEW research statistics of 2014, 25% of women and 13% of men between the ages of 18 to 24 have faced sexual abuse in the online format. Thus it is faulty to say that only women face sexual harassment. It is also perceived that women like being passed comments and eve-teased but this is also a myth. It instead is a very disgusting, painful, and disheartening activity. There is a difference between commenting and praising and this line of demarcation needs to be maintained. Ogling at someone to make her uncomfortable is also a kind of harassment to that person. This is a mindset among the general public that certain dresses and gestures invite sexual harassment but in actuality, sexual harassment cannot be invited by someone.

Provisions & Initiatives - National and International perspective

  • Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code - Considers using force or threatening to use force against a woman to outrage her modesty as a cognizable offense. The punishment for the same is one to five years along with a fine. The section reads as “Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any woman, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine”
  • Constitutional Provisions Article 14, 15(1), 15(3) are fundamental rights and concern with equal treatment and non-discrimination of people on grounds of sex. Article 15(3) gives a mandate to the legislature to make special provisions, especially for the upliftment of women. Besides these, Directive principles of state policy (DPSPs) are equally important and Article 39(a),(d) are also concerned with adequate livelihood and wages for both genders. Article 42 ensures the just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief. These provisions though important aren’t that effective, so legislation was introduced in 2013 which is discussed further.
  • CEDAW It stands for The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and was adopted in 1979. It defines discrimination against women and also provides a plan to end such discrimination. It was the first step towards laying down guidelines to promote basic human rights and to underline the rights of women. A total of 189 countries have ratified it and India ratified it in 1993.
  • Vishakha Guidelines - The Bhanwari Devi case is the landmark case that paved way for laying down of Vishakha Guidelines. The case gave a surge to the fight for women’s safety and security. This case was followed by the Vishakha and Ors vs the State of Rajasthan where guidelines for the safety of women were formulated by the supreme court in the year 1997. The guidelines were used in the case of Apparel Export Promotion Council vs A.K. Chopra. The guidelines formulated here were replaced by the legislation of 2013 which broadened the definition of aggrieved women to include all age groups to keep up with the modern circumstances.
  • Sexual harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 This act was formulated to make the workplace safer for women and to safeguard the modesty of the women. It has included women from all age groups to widen the scope of the legislation. The most essential component of this act is that under this act, every corporation or company which has more than 10 members should have an Internal Allegation Committee. The act caters to all kinds of employees whether regular, temporary, ad hoc, Daily wage, etc. It must be established in accordance with the provisions given under Ruchika Singh Chhabra vs M/s Air France India and Anr. An online platform, “She-Box” was introduced by the ministry of women that direct the complaints to the company. The Act was amended in the year 2019.


Justice Arjit Pasayat once said that “ while a murderer destroys the physical frame of the victim, on the other hand, the rapist defiles the soul of a helpless female”. The act of sexually abusing anyone is utterly disgraceful and mentally disturbing. It is considered to be one of the issues which highly affect the environment and sanctity of a workplace. It is a constitutional obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment for women to thrive. The act of harassment doesn’t take place on a particular gender and rather, both male and female can be subject to sexual abuse. There are various provisions that cater to safeguarding the rights of women at the workplace. The CEDAW is an international convention formulated in 1979. The Vishakha guidance is inspired by Sc. 2 (d) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993. It is a requirement for every organization to have an ethical code of conduct that must be followed by all the workers. After these guidelines, the legislative development in this arena was halted for almost six years. These guidelines in turn paved way for the POSH act of 2013. Besides all these legislations in place, women feel intimidated and hesitant in opening up about their issues in the garb of being a subject of public mockery. But instead, they should roll out their harassment stories in front of the public because

“There is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence. The shame is on the aggressor” - Angelina Jolie

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